High Quality Design and Color Harmony Lend Competitive Advantage in Today’s Automotive Industry


“In an over-stimulated automotive world with increasing similarities between individual vehicles, (…) brand image represents a rock for consumers to hold on to, giving them cognitive and emotional support to navigate through the diversity of products in the market.” [1] Today, more than ever, brand image is a key element for OEMs [2] to differentiate themselves from competitors in an automotive industry faced with multifaceted challenges such as globalization and shorter product life cycles. And what is a brand if not primarily an image, be it intangible or tangible? One of the key tangible aspects of a car brand image lies in its external and interior appearance, that is a combination between color, gloss and texture. This explains why leading global automobile manufacturers invest so much in ensuring high quality design and color harmony, both critically important in the car purchase decision process.


Global automotive brands need choice suppliers to succeed


If anyone knows how crucial premium design is, it is Benecke-Kaliko [3], a global leading manufacturer of high-quality foils and upholstery material for automotive interior applications. Long established in Europe, it contributes an important part of the relevant decorative sheet material market for car interiors on the continent. With the industry struggling due to the current economic conditions, it is ever so important for automotive companies to compete in a way that will give them an advantage over others. Benecke-Kaliko stands out as a strategic partner in the value chain of major global brands such as the German Volkswagen Group, by providing high quality interiors significantly influencing today’s car buyers.


But high quality car interior design must also be economically viable. “We have been working with VW Group for decades now, looking together at ways to constantly improve the quality of interior designs. However, not only does VW Group rely on our expertise, but is also considering ways to save cost and time,” explains Michael Maeker, Director Technology Center Surfaces + Styling/Design at Benecke-Kaliko. And, as the days of the monolithic automotive manufacturer have been replaced by a whole supply chain striving to collaborate seamlessly, a memorable, high quality interior for OEMs as demanding can only be brought to life when all partners in the process work in perfect synchronization, and with the latest and most cost-efficient tools.


Ensuring premium quality together, while saving cost and time


As research has shown close to 80%[4] of consumers state that color is crucial in their decision to purchase a vehicle. “To meet consumer demands, products must exhibit consistent color harmony. Therefore, we needed a reliable partner with the relevant expertise in color management and the highest quality standards,” adds Michael Maeker. This is why, already more than two decades ago, Benecke-Kaliko started its successful collaboration with Datacolor, a Swiss global leader in innovative color solutions with over 40 years of experience.


Datacolor is continuously looking to optimize color harmony, while helping reduce production time and therefore save costs. The 45G reference-grade handheld spectrophotometers, for instance, of which Benecke-Kaliko bought 6 units recently, was especially developed to improve the QA process in automotive interior applications. Equipped with a best-in-class Inter Instrument Agreement allowing color communication based on digital standards, along with an integrated and accurate 60° gloss meter, it also directly answers a very specific need of European OEM’s. As Walter Franz, Global Sales Director Industrial Business Unit, Datacolor, emphasizes: “The shape of 45G was especially designed to reach every measurement point in a car, even under the windshield.”


In order to conform to increasingly complex market requirements, product development parameters for cost, quality, time-to-market and processes have to be optimized and digital technology answers to the need to communicate colors with the highest precision across a global supply chain. “This new device meets VW needs, since the precision of its Inter Instrument Agreement, allowing digital communication of standards eliminates the need to send physical samples between manufacturers and suppliers, and therefore reduces risks, costs, time and resources incurred,” adds Walter Franz of Datacolor.


The Future


OEMs are bound to be confronted with constantly-evolving customers’ expectations and will therefore need to meet demand with innovative and high quality products in a widening segment range. In other words, the need for differentiation will only grow. “To sustain leading OEM’s excellence, we will need to maintain high standards and cost-efficient interior design. The overall trend we see, however, is a rise in the variety, and the use of new colors never seen before in an automotive interior, on the one hand, and a high demand for a broad variety of textures  with an outstanding surface appearance on the other,” predicts Michael Maeker of Benecke-Kaliko.


[1] Challenges for the automotive industry in an on demand environment, Seven areas of strategic actions, IBM Business Consulting Services, © Copyright IBM Corporation 2004

[2] Original equipment manufacturer

[3] Part of the ContiTech Group and global Continental Corporation

[4] Survey of automotive consumers, PPG 2012